Latest posts by Katya Hladkaya (see all)
- 10 Interesting Facts About Belarus - January 5, 2018
- Ščaŭje – Traditional Belarusian Sorrel Soup - January 1, 2018
- Draniki – Traditional Belarusian Fried Potato Pancakes - December 2, 2017
Belarus is located on the easternmost edge of Europe. Its total area occupies 207,6 thousand square kilometers. Belarus is bigger than Greece, Portugal, Austria, Netherlands, Belgium, Czech Republic and many other countries in Europe. It has no access to the sea and is bordered by Russia in the East, Ukraine in the South, Poland in the West, plus Lithuania and Latvia in the North-West. Its population is around 10 million people.
Belarus actively exports potash fertilizers, petroleum products, plus some other engineering devices to Europe and the United States. It also has a free higher education system. Despite the fact that Belarus is located in Europe and it occupies a significant territory, the country is still largely unknown to the world. Here are 10 interesting facts about Belarus that will help you get a better idea about this underrated Eastern European gem.
1. Old History
Belarus has a rich history which goes back more than a thousand years. It was once filled with fairytale castles, palaces, and royal residences like most other European nations. The oldest Belarusian city is Polotsk. It was founded in the 5th century and was the capital of the first state of Belarus.
Nowadays, almost every small town includes some traces of a great civilization – the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (which was its name until the end of the 18th century). Unfortunately, most castles have not survived to our days or are in poor condition. The most spectacular medieval castles are in Mir and Nesvizh. Also, Grodno has a former residence of the King Stephen Báthory.
2. 20,000 Rivers
The territory of Belarus is pretty flat, and there are no significant elevations. The highest point of Belarus – the Dzerzhinsky mountain, has a height of only 345 meters above sea level. It’s located 30 kilometers west of Minsk.
However, there are more than 20 thousand rivers in Belarus! The largest rivers are the Dnieper, the Zahodnjaja Dvina, and the Neman. In addition, 40% of the country’s territory is occupied by forests.
The most common inhabitants of the Belarusian forests are moose, wild boar, red deer, roe deer, wolf, hare, fox, and squirrels. There are some rare and protected species as well, such as the European bison, lynx, badger and even the brown bear.
3. The Oldest Forest in Europe
The largest and the oldest forest in Europe is in Belarus – the Bialoweza Forest. It’s a truly unique forest, where the largest animal in Europe lives, the European Bison.
The first mention of this forest dates back to the year 983. As of today, the Bialoweza Forest features more than a thousand giant trees, including some 600-year-old oaks, 350-year-old ash trees, and 250-year-old pine trees, as well as more than 1,000 species of plants. Some of these tree plantations, like taiga and deciduous forests, no longer exist anywhere else on Earth.
The Bialowieza Forest is one of the most valuable environmental places not only in Belarus but also in the whole World. In 1992, UNESCO added Bialoweza Forest to its World Heritage List.
4. 11,000 Lakes
Belarus is frequently called the “Country of Lakes,” since there are more than 11 thousand of them here! Most of these lakes were formed during the melting of a huge glacier 12 thousand years ago. The total lake area in Belarus is almost 2,000 square kilometers!
The largest lake in Belarus is Naroch. It’s almost 80 square km big, and 25 meters deep. It’s located in the Naroch National Park in the Minsk’s region. On the shore of the lake, there’s a resort village, where you can stay and relax with your family and friends. Furthermore, there are more than 20 species of fish in Naroch – so if you love fishing, you will enjoy this place!
5. Rich National Cuisine
Belarus has a very rich national cuisine, which is still mostly unknown in Europe and the US. In fact, some of our typical culinary traditions, which are natural for us, Belarusians, can sometimes shock tourists.
For example, a traditional Belarusian alcoholic drink is called Krupnik. It’s a unique mixture of honey tincture and spices like cinnamon, vanilla, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg. Krupnik first appeared back in the 13th and 14th centuries, and since that time it became an integral part of our national cuisine. Traditionally, Krupnik was served hot in small porcelain cups. But in less formal settings, some would drink it right from the bottle. You can try Krupnik in any Belarusian restaurant. Today it’s served both hot and cold.
If you don’t drink alcohol, or if Krupnik hasn’t caught your fancy – there is another treat for you. This time, it’s the non-alcoholic birch juice. Yes, it’s literally juice made from birch. Young birch trunks and branches would be cut and their liquid collected. From this liquid, the traditional Belarusian fermented drink would then be made.
6. The Longest Street in Europe
Minsk is the capital of Belarus. The city was founded in 967, and it’s even older than Moscow. As of today, around 2 million people live in Minsk – it is the largest city in Belarus. By comparison, the population of our second largest city is only 520 thousand.
Minsk has the longest street in Europe – the Independence Avenue. Its total length is over 15 km. The main thoroughfare of Minsk appeared back in the 16th century, and today you will find numerous local sights around it. The Independence Avenue with its unique architecture is a monument in itself.
7. High Literacy Rate
Belarus is a country of literate and intelligent people. The literacy rate here is 99%, which is even higher than in the U.S.
It was in Belarus where the first book in Eastern Europe was published in 1517. It was called “Psalter,” and it was printed by Francysk Skaryna. He was the first publisher in Belarus, and he’s one of our most prominent historical figures. Some of our country’s highest literary awards, a university, and even streets were named in his honor.
And speaking of books, in 2015 the Belarusian writer Svetlana Alexievich won the Nobel Prize in literature.
8. Free Medicine
Belarus has a free medical system. Any citizen can go to any physician and receive the necessary treatment free of charge. Cardiology, cardio-surgery, neuro-surgery, transplantology are well developed in Belarus.
In addition, the country is actively promoting medical tourism. Nearly 200,000 foreigners come here for treatment annually. And the number continues to grow. The modern medicine in Belarus is a combination of the latest technologies plus some ancient folk traditions. At the same time, the salary of a regular doctor in Belarus is $200-$300 dollars, similar to that of a plumber or a car mechanic.
9. Kennedy’s Assasin
Lee Harvey Oswald, the former US marine and the only official suspect in the murder of the US President John Kennedy, lived for a few years in Minsk, Belarus. During 1959-1962 he worked at radio engineering plant “Horizont” in Minsk. He also married Marina Prusakova here, with whom he had two daughters.
10. Famous Belarusians
Numerous world-famous people were born in Belarus, such as Marc Chagall, who is a famous Belarusian artist. Pavel Sukhoi, who was a famous Soviet aircraft engineer. He founded a design bureau which produces jet fighters, attack aircraft, and bombers with the abbreviation “Su.”
The famous American television and radio host Larry King has Belarusian roots. His mother Jenny was from Minsk and his father Eddie Zeiger – from Pinsk. Two Israeli presidents were born in Belarus – Haim Weizmann and Shimon Peres.
Louis Bart Mayer, the famous American film producer and the founder of the Hollywood film studio Metro Goldwyn Mayer, as well as the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which awards the Oscar, was born in Minsk.
Some other famous figures with Belarusian roots include Harrison Ford (his grandparents were immigrants from Belarus), Ralph Lauren, Michael Douglas and Scarlett Johansson.